Trolley Problem vs Survival Lottery

We always love a moral quandary and Babylon gave us a good moral debate at least once.

Possibly only once though there are a few different problems that I have random ideas for blogs on coming up so look forward to that mess.

Starting off though in the penultimate episode it actually had a good debate over what is good and what is bad and came up with the argument of the Trolley Problem (save the many over the one in a accident) over Survival Lottery (save the many over the one on purpose.)

So if you haven’t heard of the two problems they are moral questions that people use to try and find out how you see what being a good person or a bad person is.

The Trolley Problem is as simple as seeing a train heading towards a group of people. You can change the direction of the train and kill one person or let it run over the group.

Most people believe the right answer is killing one person is better then killing many people and the problem gets more tricky when people add in “but what if that one person is your parent/sibling/partner” but in reality there isn’t a right or wrong answer. It is one of those problems humanity have come up with because they want morals and good and evil to be a thing but in reality humanity and morals are a grey area.

Then you have Survival Lottery which goes something along the lines of if the government had to pick one person maybe every year, one healthy human, to kill and then distribute their organs to people who needs them do you THEN kill the one to save the many.

In Babylon it is used as a argument that whilst people might blindly believe that the answer to the Trolley Problem is kill one and save many in other circumstances that point of view doesn’t work.

For a start in the Trolley Problem what is happening is a accident and you have no control over the fact SOMEONE is going to die whilst in the Survival Lottery you are willingly killing a healthy person just living their life to save five random people.

Again it gets trickier when you then add in the fact that those five people might not DESERVE to live over the healthy one.

Maybe the one that needs a liver is a heavy drinker who was told to stop and didn’t and doesn’t want to stop even after getting a new liver? Maybe one is a criminal?

Thing is people don’t really like thinking about these problems because when you have to actually think harder then the very basic outline of the problems you fall into the pit of having to put faces and motives to these people when in reality if you ever were in this position you wouldn’t know a damn thing about anyone.

So is there a right answer?

Personally to me I think both problems are pointless.

As debating tools they serve little more then a game of moving goalposts as I’ve pointed above. On the basic surface of course 5 lives are going to be worth more then 1 life because there are more of them. There is nothing to quantify how 1 person can be more important then 5 people until you add in details about all 6 people in question but that is when the goal posts start to move.

In some ways the Trolley Problem especially is more a question of who do you rate as worthy when in reality if faced with kill 5 people or kill someone you loved very few people are going to be strong enough to pick the “better option” in the face of a very personal loss to themselves. It is all good and well presenting this problem to people to see what they would pick but when those people start to be filled in it isn’t so much morality that you are exploring but someone’s character.

Who do they rate more worthy in life?

Is there ever a tipping point that makes one life more important then five?

When the answer turns to yes, yes there is, you have long gone past the point of trying to learn whether someone believes one person should die instead of five and poked and prodded till you found what that single person believes to be important. So maybe that is a good test but it isn’t the way people want to use it.

On the other hand the Survival Lottery is full of a whole bunch of holes anyway.

For a start whilst the Trolley Problem is a accident that actually has a tiny percentage chance of actually effecting someone the Survival Lottery is much more out there as a idea anyway. We are no longer talking about taking lives by accident but by killing one person on purpose which we as a society mark as being wrong.

What the Survival Lottery Problem presents therefore is the moral question of not only is it OK to sacrifice one for the many but is there any time that it is fair game to kill another human being.

Again as soon as you start to fill in the humans in the test itself then it loses most of its value as a problem but at least unlike the Trolley Problem it would be a system humanity could control which is why fundamentally the Survival Lottery is a pointless problem to look at.

The Trolley Problem exists as a test of what you’d do morally in a split second accident.

The Survival Lottery is something that would have to be voted into place by a country and then handled by people you would have to trust and when people get into power you can no longer trust them. Governments would have to make rules on who was able to be one of the “healthy” people picked every year as well as who would be allowed to receive these organs and then that becomes a tricky thing in itself.

Humanity is selfish by default.

We want what is best for us, the people we love and the people we know or understand. We judge each other on the simplest of things so will forever hold a bias. If something like the Survival Lottery came into play there would have to be so many rules and regulations surrounding it but even then I don’t think it would stop the fact that someone would happily kill one person to save 5 people they knew and loved. Adding in “what if that one person was you husband” only goes to water down the test itself and find out what kind of character you have more then your ability to stamp down a moral right and wrong answer for society and anyone with half a brain would see the giant logical holes in this system and just laugh at the problem presented.

Or maybe I’m just being unkind to it.

In the end Babylon used the two against each other to come to the conclusion that the “good” path in that show is to continue.

It was used to show that at the end of the day humanity can only do their best at being good and that the line between good and evil can be very blurred at times. Similar sounding concepts can be looked in two different ways and the same person come to two different conclusions because life isn’t easily defined like some people want it to be. We are so caught up in what is good and evil that we forget that all any species really is here to do is survive as best they can.

I personally don’t know what I think the answer to either of these problems are, I’m the kind of person who in the real world would probably sit in a corner and cry about it but it was interesting to see two similar ideals being pitted against each other to try and figure out whether there was indeed a difference between them.

So let me know in the comments what you think of both problems individual and whether there is something to be learnt by comparing the two!

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